London has been repeatedly warned that changing the Brexit trade deal agreed in December last year could threaten peace on the island of Ireland. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol if a deal is not struck with Brussels.
Despite the UK reportedly softening its stance, Downing Street has insisted the option to invoke Article 16 remained on the table.
Now, a US commerce department official has claimed Washington was concerned over the UK’s threats to trigger Article 16.
They said the US would suspend checks on goods travelling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Washington had informed the UK of the reason for the hold-up, the Financial Times reported.
Three sources close to the matter said talks were stuck following pressure from Congress over the UK’s threats to trigger the clause.
In October, Washington and Brussels agreed to suspend tariffs on billions of dollars of steel and aluminium.
The deal provided relief from Trump-era tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent of aluminium to European manufacturers.
However, the deal leaves UK steelmakers facing steep duties on exports to the US.
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“That is because significant changes are needed to the Protocol in order to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.”
The department claimed they had “regular discussions with both US trade representative Katherine Tai and commerce secretary Gina Raimondo on the issue”.
It stated it remained “focused on agreeing a resolution that sees damaging tariffs removed”.
Article 16 can be invoked by both the UK or EU if either side believes the arrangement has caused “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” or the “diversion of trade”.
The Northern Ireland Protocol – agreed in the Brexit deal – is designed to avoid customs checks along the Irish border.
It means goods – including medicines – can flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
However, goods arriving from the rest of the UK are subject to control to ensure they comply with EU standards.
Due to a “grace period”, controls have not yet been imposed on the movement of products.
The grace period was expected to expire in January but the UK Government has indefinitely extended it.